Since the Dallas Stars resumed their quest of winning a Stanley Cup this season, the message from staff, coaches, and players is that of a club focused on a singular mission that will take nearly three months to complete. The work has begun and there is still much work to do.
The road towards the ultimate goal begins for the Stars on Thursday, July 30th, as the club takes on the Nashville Predators in their only exhibition game. Then it is off to the four-team, three-game round robin phase to determine the final seeding for the top four teams in the Western Conference.
The Stars are quite lucky to find themselves in this four-team round robin, as they only beat out the Edmonton Oilers by the slightest of margins based on points percentage. (Technically the Oilers earned one more point by virtue of playing two more games than Dallas before the league pause, which is to say that Dallas was slightly more efficient when it came to point collection than the Oil were.)
What they earned is still no easy task.
The Stars will face familiar foes in the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche, as well as the always pesky Vegas Golden Knights. When it comes to these respective teams, they each are capable of beating Dallas and, with the exception of Colorado, have collected wins against the boys in green this season. In those wins against the Stars, the Blues and Knights exploited weaknesses in the Stars’ overall play.
However, the Stars also have the tools to beat these three teams, as the club collected a win(s) against all three round robin opponents. To give more of a glimpse into how the Stars can replicate and improve on this winning formula, we took a look at the games where Dallas recorded wins against these three club.
Nov 5: Dallas Stars 4, Colorado Avalanche 1
Before we dig into this Stars victory against the Avalanche, it is important to note that the game was not as lopsided as the score suggests. The Stars were able to score twice in the first period, the first coming nineteen seconds into the contest by Jason Dickinson.
Overall, the Stars really did make this game quite difficult for themselves by going 1-for-5 on the power play, one of which was a double minor for a missed challenge call. The shots were also fairly even with the Avs recording 37 to the Stars’ 38. However, the Stars won by playing their game for most of the night.
The Stars were able to score all of their even strength goals by taking advantage of a strong forecheck and superior in-zone puck possession. The Stars were able to outwork the Avalanche on the boards, off of the faceoff dot, and around the net. Overall, this offensive display is something the Stars lacked all too often in their other regular season outings.
The Stars also successfully contained Colorado’s speed and creativity by keeping the game in front of them. The game certainly did turn into a track meet for certain shifts, but the Stars were able to limit the number of those shifts as the game went along. Dallas also demonstrated their speed on defense, which is a major boost to any club playing the Avalanche.
At the end of the night the Stars were able to do two things well:
1. The Stars slowed the game down, using their structured speed to defend and suck the creativity out of the game. The Avalanche thrive on speed and creativity, and without that element, the Avs are likely to struggle.
2. The Stars were able to generate a strong forecheck, pressured the puck, and had favorable zone possession. Each aspect led to key goals in and around the net.
Nov 25: Dallas Stars 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2
The Knights’ first visit to Dallas this season saw the Stars play one of the most complete games this year (when watching again and the benefit of hindsight). The Stars were able to score two power play goals courtesy of Alexander Radulov to take the lead and put the game out of reach for Vegas. The power play was sharp, effective, and productive.
The Stars’ two even strength goals demonstrated their ability to score off of the rush by activating a defenseman on the Esa Lindell goal, and by taking advantage of speed off of the rush on the Jason Dickinson goal. Both goals were indicative of the one facet of the offensive game that went well for Dallas this year: generating chances off of the rush.
What was different about this game was that the Stars were able to marry the power play and the rush to really stifle the Knights from gaining any real momentum. The Stars were also able to use a strong forecheck and puck possession to draw penalties, slow the game down, and eliminate the effectiveness of Vegas’ top players.
In other words, the blueprint for Stars hockey.
This is not to say that the Stars played a perfect game. The Paul Stastny goal was an ugly one to give up. The goal also came early in the period, giving Dallas an early hole for the frame and forcing them to work harder than they should have had to as the period went along.
It was encouraging that the Stars responded to each Vegas goal with a goal of their own, showing their ability to move forward with their game plan.
Vegas in a lot of ways is a similar club to Colorado, in that the team wants to play with speed and creativity. The Stars can really apply the same game plan from the Avs and transfer it to the Knights. However, the Stars also have the size to compete with Vegas, who are able to cycle the puck effectively on the wall.
For the most part, the Stars need to keep the game in front of them when it comes to Vegas. Limit the chances off the rush, use their defense to counter up the ice, and use their size and defending to squash the creativity. Puck possession in the offensive zone must be established, as rush chances in the playoffs are hard to come by. If the Stars can establish a cycle and combine it with their dangerous rush, the Knights will have their hands full.
February 8th: Dallas Stars 3, St. Louis Blues 2 (OT)
When the Stars and Blues find themselves sharing a sheet of ice, there is no doubt that the intensity will be there from both clubs.
This game was no different.
The Stars found themselves down 2-0 in the first period after Colton Parayko accounted for both of the Blues’ tallies in the period. Against the Blues, a 2-0 first period deficit is a deep hole to climb out of. On the road, it makes matters that much tougher.
However, the Stars were able to respond when Jamie Benn tallied on the power play to bring the game within one goal as time ran out on the first period. The second period would see the game pulled to even when Roope Hintz tallied from the slot, setting up a tightly contested third period. Ultimately the Stars would pull this game out in the overtime period courtesy of Hintz’s second goal of the night, and the Stars’ third unanswered goal of the game.
When going back into this tilt, multiple things stood out from jump.
On both Blues goals the Stars again struggled to deal with the cycle game of their opponent, and they paid dearly.
The Blues love to gain the zone, and quickly establish strong possession through their cycle. The possession will attempt to rotate the offense to the point, where their active defensemen are able to feed an open forward or put a shot on net. Colton Parayko opted to blast pucks on net and hit twine twice.
The Stars seemed to handle the Blues cycle as the game went along, which allowed the Stars to properly pressure the puck and keep their defensive structure. The Stars were also able to cycle the Blues on their second period goal to tie the game. The Stars established puck possession, worked the Blues defense into the cycle, freeing Hintz in the slot for a prime scoring chance. He converted, and the Stars tied the game.
For the most part, the book is out on the Blues and the Stars. These two teams are seemingly built to play and beat each other. This is evidenced by how even these games seem, even in losses for both teams.
Where Dallas needs to be better in order to defeat the Blues is actually quite simple from a tactical standpoint.
The Stars need to settle into their structure and stick to it. When the Blues start to rotate their cycle, the Stars’ converge needs to rotate with it down low. The wingers need to stick to their point, while the center and defense handle the forwards. On the second Parayko goal, the Stars wingers floated too deep, were caught in the rotation, and ended up late to their man.
The Blues thrive on mistakes, while the Stars thrive when they limit them.
From an offensive standpoint, the formula should be redundant by now. The Stars are a faster team than St.Louis, and arguably have more talent up front. The Stars need to combine their speed with puck possession to harness a complete attack. Dallas can ultimately use their speed to counterattack to create a rush chance or establish their cycle.
They showed they were capable of both in all three games covered for this piece, and the win against the Blues was no different.
The Stars have the tools to be successful against the top teams in the Western Conference because the Stars are also one of the top teams in the West.
As was seen during the regular season, the Stars are capable of doing many things well at different times. When the Stars combine these many things in one game, they usually walk away with a win.
If the Dallas Stars have designs on the Stanley Cup in October (that still feels weird), they must do what they do well and limit what they do poorly. They’ve shown they can do that against the three teams seeded ahead of them as they enter the round-robin, and the Stars only have the ability to better their position.
They’ve got nothing to lose these next three games.